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Joni's song influenced Malka to divorce husband

LEGENDARY FRIEND: Malka Marom with Leonard Cohen

BY SIMON YAFFE

MALKA MAROM and Joni Mitchell come from totally different backgrounds.

Malka, the daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors was raised in Israel, while Joni, of Scottish, Irish and Norwegian descent, was raised in small-town Canada, becoming a world-famous singer-songwriter.

But it didn't stop the pair becoming close friends. Malka has published a book from her interviews with the folk singer, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, Conversations with Malka Marom (ECW Press).

Friends since 1966, Joni's song I Had a King even influenced Malka to divorce her then-husband Marv Cohen.

Malka, who had moved to Canada with Marv, first saw Joni perform in a 'coffeehouse' in Toronto in 1966 - two years before the release of her debut album Song to a Seagull.

She said: "I told her then she was going to be great."

It was the start of a friendship which has lasted almost 50 years.

The book is made up of transcripts from Malka's interviews with Joni from 1973, 1979 and 2012.

"By the early 1970s, Joni had left Canada and become a big star," Malka said.

"I was working as a radio journalist and I got back in touch with Joni to ask if she would let me interview her.

"At the time, Joni gave few interviews - she didn't like doing them. I called her office and she invited me to Los Angeles."

The interview was subsequently aired on Canadian radio.

Around six years later, when Joni was recording her album Mingus, Malka interviewed her again for Canadian radio.

Another interview followed, this time 33 years later, where Joni discussed the remnants of polio, which she was stricken with when she was eight, as well as suffering from Morgellons, a mysterious disease which attacks the nervous system.

Malka only decided to turn the interviews into a book when she received the transcribed versions of the radio interviews as a 70th birthday gift from her son Daniel.

She recalled: "I had kept the interviews somewhere in my mind as something wonderful, so I didn't want to see them in print - I was frightened they would not be as good as I thought they were.

"But when I saw them, there was so much more to reflect on.

"I bumped into a literary agent I knew and told her about the transcripts. She told a publisher who said they should be published.

"It led to me doing my third interview - in 2012 - with Joni, which was a wonderful experience."

And Malka believes non-Jewish Joni could be part-Jewish.

She explained: "She has a Jewish sensibility. She has a Jewish soul and a Black soul.

"Her music will outlive us all - it is timeless."

Malka was born to Na'ava and Israel Shtein in either Poland or Hungary - she is not sure - as they left Europe with her as a three-week-old baby to move to then-Palestine, Hebracising their surname to Marom.

She said: "Each parent told me a different thing and I have no birth certificate.

"They didn't like to talk about their lives before they moved - I don't think they wanted to remember.

"I used to drive them so crazy with questions, my mother sent me off to the cinema."

Malka was still in her teens when she met and married Marv, moving to Canada in 1954.

"My parents actually pushed me to get married," she recalled.

"I was really young and didn't understand why they were so keen. I later suspected it was because they had learned from the Holocaust.

"At that time, Israel was an insecure place as well, and they thought if I left, at least one of the family would survive."

It was in Canada she met Croat singer Joso Spralja and together they formed the duo Malka and Joso, introducing world music to the country.

In 1966 they performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and hosted the CBC television series A Wonderful World of Music.

After splitting with her husband as well as her fellow performer, Malka moved into broadcast journalism, writing and producing a number of award-winning radio documentaries.

As well as Joni, she interviewed such luminaries as Canadian Jewish music legend Leonard Cohen and Israeli military hero Moshe Dayan.

Malka, who had married again, this time to Sidney Himmel, returned to Israel to make the documentary The Bedouins.

She lived with five different Bedouin tribes in the Sinai and Negev deserts for months.

Malka added: "This was obviously before Israel withdrew from the Sinai.

"I learned so much about the Bedouin culture - they are the forefathers of Arab culture.

"The Bedouins I knew were nomads, but now they have settled in the Negev."

It led Malka to write Sulha, a work of fiction, but based on her experiences with the Bedouin.

Malka's next book, Conversation with Leonard Cohen, is due to be released later this year.


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